The two graves are still fresh. The roses are still upright and defiant, having been planted on the soft earth less than an hour before. Josiah looks at his mother’s grave and a tear finally rolls down his cheek, and then another. Soon, two streams are flowing on his face. His two seven-year-old sons, Mawira and Munene, look at him curiously. The twins have never seen their father cry. Josiah’s wife and two daughters have already left the grave site with everyone else. But his sons have remained with him. Mawira is holding his left hand, and Munene the right. He wants to speak to them in the presence of their grandmother. Or at least her grave.
Josiah was not taught to be emotional. His father taught him, or at least wanted him to be a cold-hearted brute, like a real man. Kijamba did not teach his sons orally, except when drunk. They just observed what he did and they aped him. From a very young age, Josiah and his brother Mutegi looked up to their father for guidance. They adored him for his machismo. To them, he was the man.
In those early days, when they were still little boys, Kijamba had little time for them. He had more serious issues to deal with than talking with tuiji (little boys). He often came home late and drunk. Sometimes he would be in a good mood and would come singing. Those were special moments for Josiah and Mutegi because they were about the only time they would socialize with their old man.
Their mother and sister would serve him food, and he would wake up his little boys and invite them to eat with him, telling them tales of the great Ameru men in their lineage. He would boast about the bravery of his father, the man who, he claimed, was Field Marshall Mwariama’s deputy in the Mau Mau. He told them how men in his lineage were never ruled by women like some wimps in a neighboring clan, who allowed their women to even suggest the number of children they should have.
“What a shame!” he would bellow in his drunken slur. “A man is a god on earth. Our ancestors knew that. And we know that. A circumcised man cannot be ruled by a woman. If she does not toe the line, beat her into submission.”
Josiah and Mutegi gobbled up the words whole. Their father was the epitome of manliness. He was feared around the village because of his short fuse. He could turn from a jolly fellow to a raging storm within seconds. And nobody wanted to cross him. He was rumored to have broken the jaw of a man with a slap. This tale made Josiah and Mutegi freeze in fear whenever he was beating their mother, Agnes. They did not want their mother to suffer a broken jaw. She never did, although she was often left with a swollen face and sometimes bleeding gums. Once, he had broken her right arm, and she had been forced to cook and wash with her left hand, with the assistance of their sister. Because broken hand or not, she had to feed and clean up after her man.
But those days when Kijamba came home in a good mood and singing were few. On most days he would come home in a foul mood. He would kick the door and wake up Agnes with insults. These are the days that she got beatings. Isabella, Josiah’s sister, knew better than wake up during these days.
Their mother took it with grace, and never uttered a negative word against their father. She was the model wife, and as Josiah grew older, he started to wonder why their father beat her so much. He started resenting the old man, and the older he got, the more his adulation of his father waned. Once, when he was a teenager, he stood up to his father when the old man was beating Agnes. Kijamba beat the daylights out of him and proceeded to finish beating his wife. That day was, however, a turning point, and from that day Agnes was beaten less. In fact, ever since Josiah became a fully grown man, Kijamba has never laid a hand on Agnes.
But Agnes is now dead. She was killed last week by her son Mutegi. It hall happened when Mutegi was beating his wife, Kawira. Kawira was screaming, but nobody went to her rescue. Josiah did not want to. Two years ago he went to her rescue and got into an ugly fight with his brother. He rescued her but his relationship with his brother went south from that day. He advised Kawira to leave his violent brother, for the sake of her life. She packed her things and left, but was back a week later. But what irked Josiah was that Kawira ganged up with her husband to accuse him of meddling in their affairs. In fact, Kawira told anyone who cared to listen, Josiah was the reason her husband was beating her because he, Josiah, was giving her attention that made his brother jealous.
So last week, just like a thousand other times in the last two years after that episode, Josiah did not bother to find out what was going on in his brother’s house.
It was Agnes who first discovered that Kawira was dying. Mother’s instinct perhaps. Or perhaps it was the kind of screams that Kawira was now letting out. Agnes rushed to her son’s house and tried to stop him from beating her. Mutegi had taken after his father’s violent ways and hardly listened to anyone.
“Stop it Mutegi. You are killing her,” Agnes had shouted.
“Shut up woman. Go back to your husband and leave me to run my home,” he had replied. He was drunk.
Agnes had gone closer and tried to pull him away. But Mutegi swung around and pushed her forcefully towards a wall. She had hit the wall with her forehead and screamed. Josiah was in his cowshed when his mother screamed. He dashed out of the shed and crossed over to his brother’s compound. He found the two women lying on the ground. Mutegi was nowhere to be found.
Josiah had called Gitonga, their neighbor who owns a car, and they rushed Agnes and Kawira to the sub-county hospital. Kawira was declared dead on arrival. Agnes struggled for a few days in the ICU before finally succumbing to the grim-reaper. Mutegi was arrested three days ago.
Josiah kneels on his mother’s grave and draws his sons close to him.
“Listen, sons,” he tells them, his voice choking with emotion. “You are going to grow up into physically strong men. Never use your strength to assault anyone, and especially women. There is no pride in violence. Masculinity has nothing to do with machismo,”
The two boys do not respond but nod their heads earnestly. He knows that they have understood him because at their age he used to gobble up any word that came from his father’s mouth. It is then that he becomes aware of the presence of another person.
He turns to see his own father, Kijamba, crying behind them.
“I am sorry son. I was wrong. What you told your boys is what I should have taught you and your brother. Your brother would have turned out differently. If I was a better father to you and your brother, your mother and sister-in-law would still be alive.”
Josiah does not know how to respond. But then Kijamba starts sobbing, and that prompts Josiah to stand up and hug him. After a minute, Kijamba breaks free and turns to his grandsons.
“Listen, boys, pay attention to what your father tells you. He is a better man than I ever was,” he says as he holds the two boys tightly.
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